New England Patriots 41 Denver Broncos 16
Ohhhh Sunday Night! The New England Patriots took control early of another Sunday Night Football matchup in Week 10 as they faced the Brock Osweiler led Broncos, who actually beat the Pats the last time the Brockstar was under centre (an overtime win in 2015). This time round, the Denver defence is only a shadow of what it once was and Brady continues to show why he is the frontrunner for the MVP race, despite what Eagles fans might have you think.
Just like the last time out for the Pats, the key to the game in the end was winning the special teams battle and boy did the Pats do it in this game. After a three and out to start the game, a muffed punt by the Broncos gave the Patriots a short field, capitalising after just two plays involving Rex Burkhead, resulting in a touchdown on a slants route to the running back. Later in the game, Dion Lewis would return a kick off for a touchdown, the Pats would block a Broncos’ punt (blocked by Rex Burkhead) to again give Brady a short field and catch Denver with 12 men on the field during a Patriots punt which would give them the five yards needed to gain a first down. Stephen Gostkowski’s contributions to a fine special teams performance include making all the field goals he was asked to make as well as consistently pinning the Broncos back with bad field position on kick offs. By half time the game was 27-9 and was already over. For most Patriots fans, they probably started resting easy for the rest of the game as soon as that early muffed punt was recovered, such is the faith in the team.
After receiving a fifty-burger from the Eagles in their last game, you’d think the Broncos defence would be ready to destroy the Patriots offense similar to the 2015 AFC Championship Game. It was all set for them with starting right tackle Marcus Cannon being out injured, however Von Miller did not even register a single sack in the game. Hallelujah! In fact, the Patriots offensive line allowed only one sack (Justin Simmons) and just four QB hits in this game. Whilst the Patriots can be happy with their improving protection of their 40 year old quarterback, the single sack and four QB hits is still better than what the Patriots pass rush put together (no sacks, two QB hits). Luckily, they were facing Brock Osweiler so they get let off the hook for one week.
As with their plan of attack against the Chargers, the Patriots created a game plan that would allow them to win the game whilst also limiting the amount of risky throws that Brady had to make. Knowing that the strength of the Broncos defence – the cornerbacks of the No Fly Zone – would be covering the wide receivers for the majority of the game, the Patriots focussed much of their air attack on the tight ends and running backs, eliminating Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr from causing maximum damage. This would also help protect Brady in the process, with throws to tight ends and running backs usually being shorter throws, meaning Brady isn’t waiting in the pocket as he waits for the play to develop. This strategy worked a treat. Tight end Dwayne Allen FINALLY made a catch, and it was for a touchdown! Rob Gronkowski had four receptions for 74 yards and the returning Martellus Bennett had three receptions for 38 yards.
In Week 10, the Patriots put together a complete team performance to defeat a Denver team on the decline. Despite a flawed defence, they were able to cover up this massive flaw in the team due to the ineptitude of the Denver offence. The Patriot defence was even able to pick up a late interception from Patrick Chung! For the next week, the Patriots will stay in Denver in order to train in the altitude (they don’t call it Mile High for nothing people!), as their next game will be in Mexico City against the Oakland Raiders at an altitude of over 7000 feet. Having lived in the mountains of Colorado for a few months in 2016 at around 8200 feet above sea level, training in an environment like Denver should give the Patriots the best chance possible of acclimatising to the conditions in Mexico City for their Week 11 matchup.